CASS LAKE — The Cass County Board and Leech Lake Tribal Council capped a two-hour joint meeting Friday at the newly opened tribal government office building in Cass Lake by signing a five-year memorandum of understanding to cooperate.
County Board Chairman Bob Kangas, Administrator Robert Yochum, Tribal Chairwoman Carrie Jones and Tribal Secretary Treasurer Donald Finn signed the document. The board and council earlier voted separately to support it.
The focus will be for the two governments to cooperate on “natural resource management, community development, economic development and maintaining Ojibwe cultural life-ways.”
Where the county and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe do not reach a consensus, their respective staffs are instructed to try to resolve differences.
Further, failure to reach agreement on one issue will not prevent the two governments from respectfully working together on other issues, it states.
Prior to signing the agreement, staff from each government spoke on potential ways they could cooperate and ways they have done so in the past. They also shared names of contact people within their governments to begin new discussions.
On the topic of joint facilities, Yochum noted Cass has worked with other government bodies such as the state of Minnesota to try to co-locate public service buildings. He cited Cass’s present proposal to add a county highway garage addition to the state highway garage at Remer.
Noting Leech Lake is planning toward a new judicial center, Yochum suggested Leech Lake might consider a way to provide space for state district court services in the potential tribal building.
Jones noted many of their tribal members living at Cass Lake have a hard time finding transportation to services in Walker — both for court and human services. She responded favorably to the concept.
Currently, tribal courts hear more minor infraction offenses, while state district court in the county courthouse hears higher level criminal cases.
Tribal and county representatives noted the success they see in the joint Wellness Court for offenders charged for driving while impaired. They also agreed making judicial services available in both Walker and Cass Lake will partially be dependent upon permission from tribal and district court judges.
Sheriff Tom Burch and Tribal Police Chief Ken Washington were asked to begin a discussion on how far such cooperation might extend, how the existing mutual aid law enforcement agreement might be updated and whether the county and band might look at a future shared new detention center building.
On roads and trails, an area where Cass and Leech Lake have cooperated in the past, Cass Highway Engineer David Enblom said identifying future projects early will be key to making the process smoother in the future.
“If we can have environmental and archeological studies completed first, projects can be ready to go to construction quickly when funding becomes available,” he said.
Jointly, Cass and Leech Lake expect to complete a new bridge with pedestrian/fishing lane on County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 8 by July, pave County Road 143 by June, finish a pedestrian trail and resurface CSAH 75 (Bingo Palace Drive), improve County Road 150 to the tribal college and have finished two years ago improving County Road 136. The rest of County Road 136 will be improved in the near future, Enblom said.
Tribal Councilor Steve White suggested the highway departments look at developing a walking/biking trail parallel to Highway 2, going west from Bena, as a future safety project.
Ed Franckowiak, Leech Lake human services director, said Leech Lake’s six year old program to manage child placement services under a special state program for tribal members instead of the county has worked well.
“We are at or above state mandates,” he said.
Cass Health, Human and Veterans Services Director Reno Wells said the family centers have effectively served families in each community.
Cass Environmental Services Director John Ringle reported Cass was able to obtain funding to do an environmental review of failing septic systems in the Stoney Point and Sugar Point areas on the southeast side of Leech Lake. The resulting plans now will enable Leech Lake to seek funding for a community sewer systems there, he said.
Leech Lake Environmental Director Rich Robinson said Leech Lake already is on a list for federal funding to do that.
Leech Lake Land Management Director Levi Brown said the band is aware they will need to consider expanding the existing community sewer system at Shingobee Island or find a higher capacity alternative whenever Leech Lake resumes development on land it holds on Shingobee Island.
Ringle said Leech Lake has adopted the state 7080 private sewer system regulations, so has very similar rules to Cass County’s. Some of their additional regulations actually are stricter than Cass County’s, he added.
“We’re trying to be as environmentally careful as we can,” Brown said.